A Good Thing to Know About the Ability to Sense Your Body

A good thing to know is that more isn't necessarily better.

It may be intuitive to many of you and we can leave it at that, though if you're interested, we can talk academically: studies have been done on this. A high degree of interoception — that is, the ability to detect sensation in your body — has been correlated both with decreased pain in some studies, and also increased anxiety disorders.

The "more is better" example: people with low back pain tended to be worse at detecting sensations provoked by a stimulus — think a light pin prick, or the brush of a hand — and their pain lessened as they got better at detecting such signals, though training (mostly, the training of attention to feel what's actually there).

The "more isn't better" example: people who can detect their heartbeats — which is in interoceptive research a bit of a gold standard of subtle interoceptive ability — tend to be more prone to anxiety.

So, what are we left with?

I propose:

1. Interoception, or embodiment, is a multi-layered affair. When we say "I can (or can't) sense my body" we really mean "I can (or can't) sense particular aspects of my body." It's not a uniplanar skill you get better at; it's a variety of tastes in a much bigger dish.

2. Consider taking part in a movement practice that pushes your edges a little bit. If you identify as not being very body aware and, say, you have low back pain, research seems to point that doing a practice like yoga as a means to feel your body is helpful. Note the italicized bit. Stretching is a means to obtain a much bigger prize here.

And similarly, if you have lots of subtle awarenesses going on, you might consider a practice with some more density, reaction, speed, as a supplement to your natural constitution. The point isn't to try to be someone else, of course, but to bask in a kind of grounding that can arise from exteroceptive foci — that is, the focus on stuff outside of yourself, which adding weight and speed, for example, tend to naturally elicit.

3. Let your felt sense of your body, however unaware or exquisitely tuned, be an entry point into the unknown. And not The Unknown as some spiritual concept, but like really: what in your body is unknown as a felt sense? your attention there may have a healing affect. The koan "what am I not feeling?" — and listening for an answer arising as a feeling-knowing, rather than as a thought and certainly not rushing it, as there you are sure to bring in what you already know to seemingly aid in answer — may be a helpful pointer here.

4. Lastly: perhaps anxiety is less of a disorder as in "something's wrong," and more "you're aware that something is wrong." Lord knows our planet is a wild place to live; if you were a caged animal and had more awareness of that, of course you'd be anxious!

And that said ... certainly we all have different paths and dharmas. So we can be thankful not everyone in the metaphorical cage has the same awareness.

We all have our dance to dance; may we dance it all the way through, to its unique completion. Oh and, of course, the score of the dance is being improvised ;)

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Start With Science, End With Poetry

"The body relates to poetry more than it does to anatomical directions. The mind likes that sort of clarity ... but the body reacts more to images."

This was a gem of a line from The Body Awake's latest guest, Tatjana Mesar.

Another, when talking about teaching, she related how she'll "start with science, but hopefully end with more of the poetry of the movement."

What a beautiful image!

I came to admire Tatjana's intelligence, poise and kindness in equal measure.

It's live! At http://thebodyawake.com/tatjana

Cheers, love from WA, LB

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Dangerous Questions

A bit ago I wrote a post* on dangerous questions.

That topic became the headline of this interview I recently gave on the Fearless Self-Love podcast.

This is a easily a favorite interview I’ve ever given. We get into some really potent territory.

(For a taste, start at the end: 1hr 2m in is probably the most directly stated advice I would share with myself as a struggling 23-year-old.)

Find this interview on the show’s website or search in any podcast app for “fearless self-love”

Thank you, Andrea. Beautiful hosting.

=== LB

*most of what I consider to be my important writing does, indeed, make it onto this blog, but not always so please feel free to follow me on Facebook, which is probably 80% body stuff and 20% personal

What a Foam Roller Doesn’t Do

I want to say upfront, rather than at the end, that this post is not about saying self-massage tools aren’t useful. It sure seems like they can be. And I personally love and benefit from playing around on a roller or smooshing my foot on a tennis ball.

But it’s just not true that all that’s happening — or even what’s primarily useful — in a bodywork session is what’s being emulated by these tools: that is, the movement of the receiver’s tissue in a particular way.

(Is that ☝️ important? Of course. I’m not advocating that what a practitioner actually does — whether she shifts your sphenoid this way or that — doesn’t matter. It does.)

But here’s what’s not illustrated with self-release tools ...

1. the patient-practitioner connection (which, as I understand it, is part of what’s ascribed to the placebo affect of any clinical trial of, say, acupuncture).

2. the (bio) electric exchange between practitioner and patient. (Yes, some self help tools use electricity but let’s leave those out for now.)

For a super interesting read on this topic, google “the electricity of touch william tiller”; thanks to David at the AMN Academy for turning me onto this topic (via an interview I gave a couple weeks ago, coming out in a bit); I’m current a bit obsessed.

3. how long-game soft tissue (fascia and friends, as opposed to “short-game” shifts more in the neurology controlling muscle tonus) actually changes length. I won’t try to going to any great detail on this particular post, but the gist of it seems to be there is part of that change we could say is purely mechanical, but only part; the other part relies on a responsive nervous system, and particular the aspect of the nervous system that’s deep, surveying the landscape for danger, regulating your breathing and heart rate, etc. It’s not very whimsical with changing its long-term strategies.

If you could permanently change the shape of of the bottom of your foot with the amount of compression you get from stepping only a lacrosse ball, then every step you take — where you have 3x that amount of weight — should by that logic deform the bottom of your feet permanently. But it doesn’t. Same with foam rolling your bum can create some change, but sitting on your bum all day isn’t a “gluteal release.” Weird eh? Again, rolly balls are great, let’s just know it’s something more / different mechanics than “you smash your fascia so that it changes.”

Thanks for tuning in. As you may have noticed, I am largely out of the conversation around posture and bio mechanics; my interest lately is much more about emotions and relationships. But if I see one more ad that claims this or that roller is just like a massage ...

——— 

*one last note: two of these benefits of touch — relationship, bioelectrical exchange  — are most certainly not relegated to the world of bodywork or paid work of any kind. It’s availake to all of us if we have the gift of at least one friend with whom we feel safe to exchange loving touch. (Even something as simple as resting your hands on a friend’s back — not spacing out but with a present, loving intent — can do wonders for regulating their system. And maybe yours too.)

Q & A — 5 Listener-Powered Questions — Episode Up!

Hola Queridas ~

I love a good question. I also appreciate the attentive space it evokes in me to come up with an answer.

And so with that, hopefully this is a win-win as I present to you the newest TBA episode as five listener-powered inquiries, ranging across a decent spread of body-related topics, and my corresponding responses:

  1. I practice massage and am “absorbing” other people’s pain. What do I do about this?
     
  2. What is embodiment? What is the biggest obstacle to being more embodied in the world?
     
  3. I’ve oscillated between self-obsession and self-loathing, and am slowly finding a middle ground. What’s a good way to facilitate this?
     
  4. What’s the best way to walk: feet pointing forward or let them find their own way?
     
  5. People involved in somatics, dance, yoga — all these people with incredible physical intelligence — are not actively engaged politically. With so much injustice in the world, how do we find ways to be actively create meaningful change?

May these bring as many more good, deep, intimate questions as they do answers.

Cheers, love, Liam

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Sedate-Relaxed vs Aware-Relaxed

Sedation-relaxation asks “are you remaining calm (no matter what)?”

Aware-relaxation asks “what is actually happening?” to which your body might have a wide array of responses.

There are a variety of ways to accomplish sedation-relaxation, to quiet down the wild animal inside: our phones, other people’s approval, work, drugs, alcohol, Netflix, exercise that recapitulates fight-or-flight scenarios, even certain ways of practicing meditation and yoga.

Nothing is inherently wrong with any of these, in my opinion. Seriously. The world is an intense f’ing place! And lord knows it can be good — even quite wise — to just check out sometimes.

But if the deepest interest is in what’s true, we might consider the more responsive state as the better option. “I look for what needs to be done,” said Buckminster Fuller. “After all, that’s how the universe organizes itself.”

If the emphasis is on “let it go,” rather than on letting go being one possible byproduct of seeing what’s really happening in any given scenario, then we’re much less set up to do anything in response.

You might relax. You might tense up. You might experience a knowing about a conversation you need to have that you’ve been avoiding.

(Or as one of my teachers often says when confronted with how-do-I-fix-this type questions, “what do you know that you wish you didn’t?”)

But whatever response you have, you’ll be free, knowing it’s coming from something true, and not from a fantasy about how you wish you were, how you wish the world was.

Living Your Body's Intelligence — a guided meditation and movement — is up

New episode —a guided meditation and movement session with myself and Brooke Thomas — just went live! Find it here.

This episode, aside from the 6-min intro, is entirely a guided experience into, we hope, a deeper sense of living your body's intelligence (or at least one of near-infinite angles in, in this case the heart).

So, living your body's intelligence ... what's that mean? To get a feel, perhaps, for what it is, let's point to what it's not.

It's not blindly following every bodily desire that arises. (Only one donut orgy per month, alright?)

Nor is it forever perfecting your internal compass without moving in its direction, paralyzed by the potential — and inevitable — messiness of life.

It's something else, something that is both of these end ranges at the same time.

Pay attention, try, move, keep paying attention, refine, laugh and fail and fall and yet strive for a certain regality; this isn't child's play (unless, sometimes, it is) ...

Hoping, as always, this is something you enjoy and find useful. Love, LB (+ BT)

"Relax" Is a Command

To say "relax" to someone undergoing stress in their body — either verbally or with your energy / hands / whatever — is a command that might not work well ... or, perhaps worse, it does work well and they "relax" via sedation / dissociation.

In my experience, this command can arise from a place of undigested emotional turmoil in the practitioner. (I know this well because, of course, that practitioner has been me! This is something I've seen through a great deal.)

It's frustrating. "Why are you holding onto this [story / muscular tension / idea about how this will go]?" I think. "Relax already; let it go ..."

But of course, when I say it that way, I am not relaxed, and certainly not fully integrated, in integrity with my thoughts.

And also of course, you would never get an abused dog to relax by telling it to relax.

You'd get it to relax by letting it know, deeply in its bones, that it's safe.

Relaxation, then, in the byproduct of much longer, slower, deeper and often less glamorous work.

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More Helpful Questions

In general,

the more experience I gain as a teacher,

the less I am asking

“What is the most accurate way of saying this?”

and the more I am asking

“What is most useful way of answering this, given this particular student / context?”

This answer may or may not be as "true" as the true answer, but it will lead, more easily, to the truth. (Is the idea.)

 

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The Limbic Brain and the Biology of Emotion

Dear Listeners,

We have a new episode up, in which I'm primarily reading a chapter from a book gifted to me by a student of mine — and he was right; I loved it — called Younger Next Year.

I'm thinking you might a) dig this, and b) find it a useful tool in bridging a generational gap that can come when talking about the healing power of emotions and human connection with folks from more traditional, less touchy-feely backgrounds.

This episode is up on iTunes et al, and on the TBA website right here.

Love, LB

Focus and Periphery

Expanded peripheral vision is not solely a lack of centrally-focused vision.

It is that, yes, but if that's where our definition ends, we're missing something vital, no?

The "lack of focus" of an open periphery doesn't really give you an idea of what peripheral vision is, only what it isn't. If you're gazing across a landscape, your focus softening can be spoken of in the same breath as your periphery gaining a kind of energy, a vitality.

You can achieve a lack of focus by releasing your focus altogether, without necessarily gaining in your peripheral focus. It's a kind of sedation.

You can "relax" tense muscles by dissociating in certain ways, without necessarily reorienting to something that's not what was — it's not tension — but it's not just nothing.

Peripheral vision, or a kind of aliveness-emptiness in the body, isn't nothing.

It's just harder to talk about.

(Words are kind of yang in their essence, perhaps, and how to speak of yin qualities other than with silence?)

.

.

.

.

.

.

Love, LB

"What Will I Learn?"

Consider two classes: in one, you spend a week, in silence, being led through the grand canyon. In the other, you spend two hours online learning about the grand canyon.

“What will I learn?”

The online class could have a long, thorough list of what you’ll walk away with. Geography, archeology, flora and fauna and on and on. If someone asks at the end “so what did you learn?” you’ll be able to tell them something, potentially a lot.

What could you say about the week in silence? Did you learn anything?

And yet, it’s not that wild of an idea that the week moving through the terrain, immersed, has an inherent worth to it, a “knowing” that is not well summarized in a list.

Intellect and artistry —— left and right brain —— knowing in the head and knowing in the body —— research-led and experience-led practices ——

We tend to get campy around this kind of thing, no? That one is superior. And honestly, if push came to shove for me, I’d take a week in silence any day over the two-hour class if my objective were to really get to know something deeply.

And yet — and yet — are these not both entry points to the same knowing?

West-Rim.jpg

ps these are the kinds of questions Mike Hamm and I talk about ad nauseam on the phone together, in an attempt to bring you only a refined version of this inquiry in our workshops — like our four-day immersion in August for people who work with the body — where we place great important in teaching and learning from both perspectives.

Nobody But Yourself

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel ... the moment you feel, you're nobody-but-yourself. — e.e. cummings

I'm tempted to just leave that quote, gorgeous and poignant as it is!

But ... check out this picture.

  Ze human brain.

Ze human brain.

It's from Gray's Anatomy, a cutaway revealing the brain's insular cortex, one of the deeper centers that collates feeling-state information.

This depth of the brain is essentially part of the limbic system, that is our "middle brain" that deals a lot with primordial emotions. Primordial meaning these sensations deal less with a nonchalant "this surface is rough vs smooth," and more with something quite intense, a wave of sensation that says "let's jolt this body with great fear in hopes that we'll get out of this threatening situation alive!"

The more "superficial" sensations are, indeed, registered in a more superficial part of the brain (the somatosensory cortex).

Isn’t that wild? Some sensations that don’t feel as deep — say the feeling of your bum on a chair — register as activity in more superficial areas of the brain than, say, a more emotional sensation that feels deep, like heartache or a burning in your guts. That second one IS more deep, neurologically speaking.

Are there ways in which you attempt to stay "safer" by thinking about something personally difficult rather than by feeling it? The feeling tends to be more raw, deep and, as our poet above said, intimate.

_________

ps the upcoming weekend retreat with myself and Brooke Thomas still has a few spots left. We will, indeed, dive deep into the heart of this feeling-state inquiry, this nobody-but-yourself-ness.

 

Self Improvement

Self improvement can be such an important desire.

It's an impulse that says "something is wrong here; we need to change." I know for me, this impulse to improve my self — my experience — has led me wondrous places and very much feels a part of my dharma, my life path.

Though it can also be a way to (attempt to) escape reality — what's actual happening, here and now.

By trying to get somewhere more improved, we don't feel the wise and important sting, perhaps, of what's here.

Have you noticed?

Fascia, Fluids, Nervous System: The Body in Time

Here’s a thought-in-process you might find useful.

Your fascia is your past. Your fluids are your immediate present. Your nervous system is your future.

Of course, all of these tissues are present now, so this is more like Metaphorical Anatomy. Let me expound.

FASCIA

Your connective tissue body, as much as any division of reality is actually a thing, is what’s been created by your past: every nook and cranny of experience happening to, by and through you.

Think of it as one of those slime trails left by a slug, an echo of where you were and who you’ve been. It’s called Wolff’s Law in bones, and Davis’ Law for connective tissue, but the premise is the same: what you’ve done, you are.

As one of my teachers, Tom Myers, said in our interview, fascia is the tissue of our beliefs. It’s the firmness, rootedness, “I believe this to be true because these things happened, or didn’t” nature of us.

In a movement practice, this is “working with the body you’ve got.”

And it is always, of course, in process. (Alternately, we might say, it *is* a process.)

Or as David Whyte said much more simply and beautifully

We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again.

FLUIDS

The fluids of the body — and there are many — are differentiated largely due to fascial membranes. Within these structures — lymphatic ducts, veins and arteries, interstitial spaces — flow our life waters.

Why fluids as present?

Our hormones — the endocrine system — are the currency of these pathways.

And if you’ve ever experienced depression, or an orgasm, or taken LSD or even drank a cup of coffee, you know the power of a change in an almost unimaginably small amount of hormones.

Those are all in-the-moment, and only in-the-moment, experiences. Once the hormonal balances shift again, you are suddenly (or not so suddenly, depending) having a very different experience.

Consider, too, the fluid-like verbiage of emotion and sensation, often used as a tool to anchor into presence. Swelling, falling, shrinking, warming, pain surging, the rushing of desire, anger rising, an inner breeze cooling … all “-ings,” all happening now. (This idea borrowed almost verbatim from my interview with Susan Harper.)

In a movement practice, this is the breath, and the acceptance if not embrace of what is occurring, in real time, now.

NERVES

Of course the nervous system does a bajillion things (so does fascia and so do fluids), but considering the lens of time, most of the nervous system’s function has an element of the future, of prediction.

We know already the process of thought has an element of “not here”-ness to it. Right? Not even like that’s a bad thing. But the very act of thinking about something that just happened means … of course … it’s not happening anymore.

“So Liam, that’s the past, and you said fascia was the past,” you say. You cheeky devil, you!

Well, a) you’re right, and b) consider that any pontification of the past only makes sense to a thinking mind if that same mind believes there’s something to be gained. None of us would dwell on what just happened if we didn’t think there was something in it for us — however misguided that belief can be.

To build something that’s not been built, it must first be imagined. (Or created spontaneously, but that’s of course different than “I am going to build X, and X hasn’t been built before,” which is a very real thing one can do.)

This kind of scanning the past for help with prediction happens unconsciously all the time. That’s another bajillion things, like you having an aversion to a smell, a sound, this person or that sport, all more or less beneath the radar.

(One good thing to know is that we are passed, and we will pass if we bear children, these cravings and aversions between generations, i.e. you’ll likely have nonsensical likes and dislikes that your grandparents had even if you never met or knew anything about them.)

This is, of course, also one way of framing trauma, of what has happened holding the steering wheel of the thing that tries to predict what will happen. Bang = bomb. Man = danger. Alone = death.

In a movement practice, this is visualization, intention setting, the “cut and paste” nature of our perception that can take something that hasn’t happened yet, visualize it as though it has, and depending on how this aspect is playing with all the others, it might happen.

(One little side note here, consider that movie The Secret, where they’re essentially suggesting you anchor “future you” into “present you” by anchoring the thought of what you want into the fluids, i.e. the feeling of having it.)

AND SO OUR WHEELS TURN

I’ll close this by re-emphasizing that this is but imagery, metaphor with its roots in truth as best as I know it. Your nervous system exists in isolation about as much as the leaves of a tree exist independent of the branches, trunk and roots … not to mention the soil, the sun and the pollinators.

Helpful? Infuriating? I’d love to hear if you care to share.

With love, LB

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On Embodiment and "The Body," Pt 1

The work I'm investigating, as far as I can see, is not ultimately about the body, the stuff of us.

It's not about "the body" as separate from anything you, inherently, are. And I am.

Is is perhaps more accurately described as a wink and nod game we play with creation, that okay, we're going to set up some rules to make this game real, full, deep and often quite challenging.

It's like a haiku:

Strict parameters
On how you say what you need
To say, directly

We use form to come to know how freedom moves.

Y tu?

Love, LB

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Online Embodiment — ep 36 is live

Episode 36 is live!

Online Embodiment and Curating Virtual Space with Vagus Study Group founder, and a dear friend of mine, Lisa Elliott, is live. Go to the episode page or find on iTunes et al.

Love, LB

How
Do I
Listen to others? 
As if everyone were my Master
Speaking to me
His
Cherished
Last
Words.

– Hafiz